Rivalry renewed on Thursday
Tuesday, 3 December 2013
WHILE the Dr McKenna Cup was officially launched tonight (Monday) the GAA calendar throws in early for Armagh and Down as the two rivals clash this Thursday (December 5).
The Orchard and Mourne men renew rivalries in the re-launch of the Cardinal O'Fiaich Cup, which is a competition to be run over two weeks and will also involve Derry and Aidan O'Rourke's Louth. The Cup was first introduced by the late Cardinal O'Fiaich with the aim to bring inter-county football to his club Crossmaglen Rangers, but after initial interest from supporters it's popularity waned and before the 1990s the competition ceased to exist.
However, the Armagh Co Board have given the competition the green light, with games to be played in the Athletic Grounds and at Crossmaglen Rangers, with the Final on Sunday (December 15).
Thursday's game will be a prequel to the Dr McKenna Cup, and while it is often said it is important not to read too much into pre-season games, Armagh and Down exited the Championship early last season and have much ground to make up.
James McCartan will again be without Saval's Danny Hughes, who has an on-going injury but the Mourne men have been boosted with the return of Ballymartin's Peter Fitzpatrick, from Australia, and Clonduff's Darren O'Hagan, from the USA.
Big Fitzpatrick is an excellent midfielder who offers strength and mobility and would make a formidable partnership with either Ambrose Rogers or Kalum King and McCartan's hand is already stronger than last season with Fitzpatrick in the side. Down seemed have solved their corner back problem two seasons ago, but O'Hagan's departure to America made matters difficult for the Mourne side, although with O'Hagan, Warrenpoint's Ryan Boyle and a number of the Kilcoo contingent of Niall McEvoy, Darragh O'Hanlon, and Daryl Branagan in the side, Down's perceived defensive frailties don't appear so bad.
Armagh boss Paul Grimley and his management team revealed a 40-man provisional squad on the Armagh website, with Cullyhanna's Robbie Tasker being handed his senior debut and defender Andy Mallon and Mayobridge's Kevin O'Rourke have returned to the side. The trio who left for America last season, Declan McKenna, Pete Carragher and Gavin McParland are not included in this year's squad. All three played a pivotal role in Armagh's All-Ireland Minor success in 2009 but went to America after Armagh lost to Cavan in the Ulster Championship last season.
While McKenna didn't quite shine for the Seniors, Gavin McParland is a proven goal-scorer and Silverbridge's Carragher possesses the potential to become a formidable midfielder, and it is a significant blow that these lads are missing.
Kevin Dyas is another player the Orchard County will miss 2014 as he has committed to travel next year, and considering the Dromintee man was Armagh's best performer in a disappointing season, it is not the best news for manager Paul Grimley.
While Jamie Clarke is back in the Armagh camp, Crossmaglen players, such as Clarke, Paul Hughes, Kyle Carragher, Tony Kernan, Paul McKeown and Johnny Hanratty (Aaron Kernan and James Morgan are injured) may not feature in the O, as they will take a trip to Florida.
Players such as Cullyhanna's Robbie Tasker and Annaghmore's Oisin Mac Iomhair are exciting players who can link up attacking play and take scores. Kevin O'Rourke has impressed for Mayobridge and will add another dimension to Armagh's forward lines. Goalkeepers Paudie Rodgers from Lissummon and Mathew McNeice are magnificent additions while Aaron Findon has the potential to grow into winning a midfield birth. Michael Murray is a tidy defender with a bit of pace and importantly a quick learner. In this year's Club Championship, he struggled in the opening five minutes but then dominated the remaining 55 minutes.
The return of Andy Mallon, who now lives in Dublin and plays for Parnells gives Grimley extra defensive cover, not something Armagh has been accustomed to in recent years.
Cardinal O'Fiaich Cup
Thursday (December 5) at 8pm
Athletic Grounds: Armagh v Down.
Friday (December 6) at 8pm
Athletic Grounds: Derry v Louth.
Sunday (December double-header
Crossmaglen at 12.45pm: Armagh v Louth.
Crossmaglen at 2.30pm: Down v Derry.
Wednesday (December 11) at 8pm
Athletic Grounds: Armagh v Derry.
Friday (December 13) at 8pm
Athletic Grounds: Down v Louth.
Sunday (December 15) at 2.30pm
Crossmaglen: O' Fiaich Cup
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